Each of Southern Mississippi's first six victories this season has been by at least eight points. If justice is served, the Golden Eagles will have a lot more comfortable wins before the season is over.
Southern Miss suffered plenty of heartbreak last season, losing three Conference USA games on three-point field goals at the buzzer. That was the difference between winning the C-USA regular-season title and finishing in a tie for fifth place as the Golden Eagles went 22-10 overall and 9-7 in conference play.
It seems unlikely Southern Miss will compete for the conference title this season after losing three starters, including all-conference forward Gary Flowers. However, the Golden Eagles have been very competitive thus far, going 7-2, ranking fifth in the RPI and sixth in the nation in strength of schedule, according to basketballstate.com, with their only losses coming to Denver and Murray State, who are a combined 16-2.
Southern Miss has received outstanding backcourt play as four guards have scoring averages in double figures: junior LaShay Page (15.3), senior Maurice Bolden (12.8), senior Angelo Johnson (12.4) and sophomore Neil Watson (10.7). Bolden, who is also averaging 7.3 rebounds a game, and Johnson, who is averaging 3.8 assists a game, are fifth-year seniors who have made a seamless transition to the starting lineup after being primarily bench players in their careers.
The guard-heavy influence shows in Southern Miss' shooting. The Golden Eagles have a .395 percentage on three-point field goal attempts, not that far off their .437 percentage on two-pointers.
- While the numbers are still shaking out early in the season, Southern Mississippi had an impressive No. 6 ranking in the RPI following a 78-62 victory over Louisiana Tech that raised its record to 7-2. The Golden Eagles trailed only Saint Mary's, Duke, Syracuse, Marquette and Northern Iowa. Southern Miss was No. 67 last season when it went 22-10.
- Coach Larry Eustachy won his 124rd game at Southern Miss with the victory over Louisiana Tech, moving into third place on the school's all-time list and passing James Green (1996-2004). Eustachy is in his eighth season at Southern Miss and has 386 overall wins in 21 seasons.
Player To Watch: G Angelo Johnson-The fifth-year senior is dependable at the point and Southern Miss' floor leader. He led Conference USA with a 3.1 assist/turnover ratio last season. Though that figured has dipped to 1.7 in the early going this season, he has raised his scoring average to 12.4 points a game after it was 7.5 a year ago.
Key Conference Game: Jan. 11 at Memphis-A rebuilding Southern Miss team is off to a surprisingly good start but will find out exactly how it stacks up in C-USA when it visits conference favorite Memphis after opening at home against East Carolina then playing at Tulane. Southern Miss lost to Memphis three times last season by a combined total of 10 points.
Quote To Note: "We still have work to do but the exciting part is that we're only going to get better,"-Eustachy on his team getting off to a 7-2 start.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
2010-11 Conference Record: 9-7, fifth place (tie)
Lineup Breakdown: Southern Mississippi has relied heavily on its backcourt in the early going with its top three scorers being G LaShay Page (15.3 points per game), G Marcus Bolden (12.8 points per game) and G Angelo Johnson (12.4 points per game and 3.8 assists per game). Bolden is also shooting .462 from three-point range while Page is at .394 and Johnson at .385. F Torye Pelham has been a steady inside presence, averaging 7.6 points per game and 5.4 rebounds per game. G Rashard McGill is scoring just 4.2 points a game, limited by his .256 shooting percentage as he struggles making the transition to Division I from the junior college ranks.
- F Jonathan Mills is turning into a reliable bench option in his first season in the program. The junior college transfer scored a career-high 16 points in 24 minutes in a victory over Louisiana Tech on Dec. 10. Mills has scored in double figures three times in nine games and is averaging 8.0 points a game.
- Page has stepped up his game in his first season as a starter as the junior is sixth in scoring in Conference USA and second in three-pointers made per game (3.1). Last season, Page averaged 6.2 points and 1.9 threes a game.
- Watson has scored 42 percent of his 96 points from the free throw line as he has made 40 of 44 free throw attempts. His .930 free throw percentage is second in C-USA.